Conservation Amendment Appeal Briefs Keep Coming

The legal fight over the long-delayed implementation of a 2014 constitutional amendment approved by a 75-25 percent margin continues in Tallahassee.

The amendment was intended to restart the stalled Florida Forever program and resume major conservation land purchases on the state’s priority list.

Instead, Florida legislators have diverted money to cover routine agency operational costs and have appropriated much less money for land acquisition than the amendment authorized.

Several environmental groups, including Sierra, sued legislators in 2015 to enforce the amendment’s proper implementation.

Environmentalists won in circuit court last year. Legislators appealed and now the case is before the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

During the past month a number of outside groups on both sides of the dispute have filed motions with the court.

On the environmentalists’ side, briefs were filed by Florida Conservation Voters, The Trust for Public Land, The Everglades Foundation and Florida Audubon Society.

On the legislators’ side, briefs have been filed by the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Stormwater Association, the Florida Rural Water Association and the Florida Water Environmental Association Utility Council.

Copies of the briefs are not viewable by the public on the appeal court’s website, but according to a report by Bruce Ritchie at Politico, opponents of the environmental case are arguing the amendment could harm Everglades restoration and beach renourishment funding and delay solution of the algae pollution plaguing south Florida coastal areas. Critics also claimed there probably isn’t enough conservation land left of buy anyhow to spend the $18 billion the amendment authorizes.

The fact is that there are other legitimate funding sources for these programs besides the Amendment 1 funds, which is at the heart of the debate.

The latest estimate to buy just the lands on the state’s top priority list comes to $2.5 billion, which is only a small fraction of the other projects on the state’s acquisition list. In addition, more funds are needed to match local environmental land acquisition purchases. Added together, you get pretty close to the $8 billion figure.

But this argument is really irrelevant.

The simple fact is that Florida voters voted to fund land acquisition, legislators opposed the effort and have been doing what they can to thwart it. Local governments have joined the fight on the legislators’ side because they see the fund as giant piggy bank they can use for public works projects to support more development.

By the time this is over, we’ll know whether the Florida Supreme Court views the Florida Constitution as a suggestion or the law.